Achieving Sustainable Food Systems in a Global Crisis: Summary Report

Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

The world is not on track to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The prevalence of hunger and poverty—the two core goals which are the litmus test for everything else—are on the rise. This is being made worse by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, skyrocketing food, fertilizer, and energy prices, COVID-19, and climate change. In Africa, the situation is exacerbated by internal conflicts, political unrest, economic recessions, and swarms of desert locusts. To get back on track, it is critical to pursue policy pathways that encourage synergies and limit the trade-offs between hunger, poverty, nutrition, and climate change. This report summarizes the evidence-based and costed country roadmaps for effective public interventions to transform agriculture and food systems in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria1 in a way that ends hunger, makes diets healthier and more affordable, improves the productivity and incomes of small-scale producers and their households, and mitigates and adapts to climate change.

The financing gap is immense. This report shows that while it is possible to achieve sustainable food system transformation in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria, in the next decade, it would require an average additional public investment of USD 10 billion per year from 2023 to 2030 and targeting spending on a more effective portfolio of interventions that achieve multiple sustainable development outcomes. Of the total USD 10 billion, the donor share averages USD 5.8 billion per year, and the country share averages USD 4.2 billion per year. Importantly, comparing the financing gap between the long-term investment needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 and the short-term investment needed for emergency food assistance shows that while emergency assistance has increased in recent years, there is significant underfunding of the longer-term investment needs. The shortfall in longer-term funding increases the vulnerability to shocks, pushing the number of people affected by hunger and poverty higher. Donors should therefore complement and better link the increased allocation of emergency food assistance with increased investments in longerterm agricultural development priorities to prevent future crises when the next shock hits.

Filling the financing gap of USD 10 billion per year will yield immense economic, social, and environmental benefits. The prevalence of undernourishment in all three countries will decrease to under 3% in 2030 from a current projection of 22% in Ethiopia, 25% in Malawi, and 21% in Nigeria, by 2030. The transition toward healthier diets will be achieved for 248 million people, or roughly 60% of the population in each country. The incomes of 29 million small-scale producers will double on average in 2030 compared to 2015 levels. These economic and social gains will be achieved while confining greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to nationally determined contribution goals and increasing resilience to climate change of the most vulnerable.

The findings in this report are based on analysis of academic and grey literature, as well as donor-funded projects, micro- and macroeconomic modelling, and engagement and consultations with key stakeholders in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria. The report summarizes the findings of a project that explores the interactions between reducing hunger and poverty, achieving healthy diets, and addressing climate change within the evolving food systems in three countries—Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria.

The report recommends the governments of Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria and their development partners:

1.Increase domestic and external resources to achieve the transition to sustainable agriculture and food systems. It would cost an additional USD 10 billion per year on average from 2023 to 2030; USD 4.6 billion for Ethiopia, USD 543 million for Malawi, and USD 4.9 billion for Nigeria. Of the total, the donor share averages USD 5.8 billion per year: USD 2.7 billion for Ethiopia, USD 472 million for Malawi, and USD 2.3 billion for Nigeria. Increased spending on the farm in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria and social protection programs in Nigeria account for most of the additional need.

2. Urgently scale up official development assistance for the longer-term investments in agriculture, food security, and nutrition while strengthening the link between emergency assistance and long-term development goals. To prevent future shocks leading to crises, donors should strengthen the link between humanitarian and development spending and increase their allocations to longer-term development priorities, including disaster preparedness, to build resilience that would help prevent shocks leading to crises.

3. Strengthen the linkages between food systems and the environment through extension services, better seed choices, investment in machinery, and on-farm interventions that protect soil health, biodiversity, water, and land resources. While all three countries are undertaking efforts to address climate change and enhance climate adaptation, more effort is required to support climate-resilient agricultural practices that address the linkages between agriculture and food systems, food security, and healthy diets. This includes targeted extension services for those most vulnerable, including women and others, better seed choices, investment in machinery and equipment, and interventions to protect soil health and biodiversity, conserve water, and limit land-cover change.

4. Scale up and increase support for environmentally sustainable livestock intensification through better breeding, feed, manure management, and a shift to small ruminants. Environmentally sustainable intensification is needed to improve both crop and livestock productivity, but this is lacking in donor and governmentfunded programs. The livestock sector is the biggest contributor to GHG emissions, and its contribution to total and per capita GHG emissions in the three countries will continue to rise to 2030. The livestock sector also has low productivity levels, necessitating significant additional investment to drive sustainable productivity growth through better breeding, feed, manure management, and a shift to small ruminants.

5. Continue and scale up targeted social protection programs for the most vulnerable to support national nutritional and development objectives and build resilience to climate change and other shocks. These should build on already successfully designed and implemented social protection programs, particularly those in Ethiopia and Nigeria.

6.Accompany on- and off-farm investments with nutrition education to improve consumer choices. Initiatives that provide nutrition education and deliver advice on storing and utilizing diverse, nutritious food products are critical to complement and maximize the impact of social protection, nutrition, and agricultural productivity programs.  

7. Focus food loss and waste policies and interventions on better storage infrastructure and education. Food loss and waste is growing in all three countries, and there is insufficient attention paid to addressing this. The focus of specific investments should be on both enhancing households’ knowledge about food waste and safe food storage methods, and on storage infrastructure development along value chains. This would contribute to preserving highly perishable goods and efforts to improve food safety.

8. Increase support for regional and national institutions to improve capacity to monitor, analyze, and inform on progress and achievements. This will enable institutions to better monitor, coordinate, and accelerate the sustainable agriculture and food systems transformation, including by collecting disaggregated data to account for subnational and gender differences.

These recommendations closely align with the strategies and pathways outlined by Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria in their national pathways for food systems transformation developed in light of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in 2021 (see Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2021a; Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2021c; Government of Malawi, 2021b). The country reports explain the alignment between our recommendations and the country-specific UNFSS food systems transformation pathways (see Bizikova et al., 2022a; 2022b; 2022c for more details). The results, findings, and recommendations of these reports, and the broader project findings, therefore offer an evidence base and a financing plan on which to support the implementation of the key priority action areas identified in the country’s UNFSS processes. 


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This resource presents evidence or data but has not been peer reviewed